Monday October 18, 2021

Dealing with dengue

September 25, 2021

The last thing Pakistan needed at this point was the outbreak of yet another potentially deadly disease. Yet, as hospitals in Lahore and many in other parts of Punjab show, we seem to have a full scale dengue outbreak, with at least 867 cases reported, more than 680 of them in Lahore. There are also reports of around 46 cases in Rawalpindi and some in the Mardan area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Sindh too has reported dengue cases in the hundreds. We can only hope and pray at this point that this does not spread and reach a level of 2019 when there were 50,000 infected people across the country. Our hospital system can simply not cope with such an epidemic at this point when Covid patients continue to occupy beds in hospitals across the country.

The dengue virus is caused by the Aedes mosquito, which breeds on water, notably clean water. The recent rains in Lahore have aggravated the scale of the danger. The PML-N leadership has a point when they ask why anti-dengue fumigation and spraying was not carried out early in the season in Punjab to prevent the post-monsoon outbreak. But it is now too late to go into details over this, although of course the government should be asking questions generally and considering strategies for the future. The dengue virus has four serotypes or strains, so a person who has been infected before can become infected again with another variety of the disease. There is no definite cure and treatment consists mainly of controlling fever and providing drugs to relieve symptoms. In rare cases dengue can be fatal, especially when it takes haemorrhagic form, leading to bleeding from various parts of the body, and there has already been one death in Lahore due to this. Doctors need to be made more aware of what to do when a patient tests positive for dengue, with 114 people in Lahore testing positive on Wednesday.

We know – or at least should know – that dengue is a vector-borne disease and so it tends to spread more in areas with rapid and poorly-planned urbanisation and poor solid and water waste management. This describes our urban areas to a tee. While efforts at spraying should be welcomed – and are the least that should be done – the fact is that dengue can only be eradicated when a functioning government is carrying out its tasks properly. This means having proper waste management so that filthy, standing water is not allowed to accumulate where dengue mosquitoes thrive. Relying solely on spraying is an acknowledgment on the part of the government that it cannot reduce the sources where the mosquitoes breed. This leads only to an increase in the total number of mosquitoes and the certainty that dengue will continue to afflict the country. However, at least the previous Punjab government did show that dengue is a virus that is controllable even if it is not outright eliminated. All that is required now is to make efforts to use resources to replicate that previous success.